Through this scene, where nobody says anything beyond “Put the veal in the oven”, we piece together the relationships. It’s so gratifying to get to know characters by watching what they do (as opposed to listen to them talk about themselves). An amazing amount of information is conveyed without dialogue. There’s Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel), overseeing the meal, and also cooking himself, splitting time by visiting with his guests. His partner in the kitchen is Eugénie (Juliette Binoche), who tends to her work with obvious pleasure, her face lit up, pleased at the success of a long day’s toil. She’s not just a good cook. She’s an artist. The two assistants are teenage girls, Violette (Galatéa Bellugi) and Pauline (Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire), who work silently and obediently. Pauline is new to the kitchen, and still a child, but she is a gastronomic prodigy, able to name all of a broth’s ingredients merely from the taste. Dodin and Eugénie recognize and cultivate her gift.
Based on the popular French novel The Passionate Epicure (1920), written by Marcel Rouff, “The Taste of Things” features many such scenes, lengthy delectable cooking scenes, but it is the first which establishes the film’s rhythm. One doesn’t even notice the length of the scene, because what is happening is so soothing and pleasurable. The history of “food movies” is a long one, but there’s never been food as delicious looking as the meals created by Dodin and Eugénie. You can almost smell the aroma of those broths, pastries, chickens.
But “The Taste of Things” has deeper layers connected to all this food preparation. Dodin and Eugénie have been working side by side for twenty years. How Eugénie came to live with him is not really expressed, although he is such a famous epicure that perhaps she traveled there to offer herself as an apprentice. The soft encouraging manner in which she treats Pauline suggests a personal identification with the child. Dodin and Eugénie share occasional nights together, where he walks through the dark halls of the manor house and knocks on her door. This, too, has probably been going on for 20 years. Dodin has proposed to Eugénie a number of times. She always turns him down. Their relationship is one of mutual respect, not just as people, but as fellow obsessives. Cooking together, for them, is an act of creation.